CLINTON & TRUMP:
BATTLE FOR THE PRESIDENCY IS
By Valerie Miller
As the summer heat approached 110 degrees in the Las Vegas Valley, across the country in Cleveland the political temperature was perhaps even hotter. The Republican National Convention just had its roll call of the states, officially making New York billionaire and reality TV star Donald J. Trump the GOP’s 2016 presidential nominee.
There was a small disturbance by some so-called “Never Trump” GOP delegates on the first day of the mid-July event, and a widely booed non-endorsement from Trump’s chief GOP rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz. But, for the most part, the nomination went smoothly. Many Republicans were excited, while some delegates were just resigned to support their party’s nominee. Others skipped the convention and used their opposition to Trump for personal fame…and, to milk it for television appearances.
But for many Americans, Trump’s formal nomination was both a surreal and a historic moment. For the very first time, a total newcomer to politics and government had taken the political world by storm and succeeded. Trump did not flame out, or drop out, as media commentators predicted—and as his 16 Republican primary opponents had hoped.
The last non-politician to be elected president of the United States was Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. That was more than 60 years ago. However, even that comparison doesn’t do justice to what Trump has achieved, says historian Michael Green, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and himself a Democrat.
“This is one that is keeping me up at night,” says Green of the 2016 election. “[Trump] has no political or governmental background, and has never held office. Eisenhower had commanded Allied forces in World War II.”
Green can’t help but be amazed by the reality star-turned-Republican nominee’s meteoric rise. “I never thought he would go through with it,” as many initially dismissed Trump “as the flavor of the moment.”
While Green says he would be “shocked” if Trump became president, he also concedes that many unpredictable things could alter this election cycle. “It could be anything from some major revelation about Hillary Clinton to a major terrorist attack.”
Clinton is the Odds-On Favorite
Dan Hart, a longtime Democratic strategist who now lives and works in Las Vegas, thinks the odds are still favorable that Hillary Clinton will win both Nevada and the presidency come November. Though, he admits, Donald Trump is a serious threat to pull off an upset in the general election.
“Trump has so much popularity, and his message of it being a ‘rigged system’ has a resonance here,”’ Hart says of Nevada. “There is still high unemployment, and a lot of lost jobs.”
Hart, who worked back East on then-President Jimmy Carter’s re-election campaign in 1980, cautions against dismissing Trump as simply a reality-TV star. He recalls Carter being roundly defeated by a former actor— Republican Ronald Reagan—because of the global turmoil and domestic economic problems that plagued Carter’s presidency. Hostages were being held at the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran, and the U.S. economy was in bad shape in 1980.
In 2016, though, Hart sees a lot going in Clinton’s favor. “She has a strong message and [the endorsement of] Bernie Sanders will help her a lot,” he adds. Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont who ran as a Democratic Socialist, put up a battle in the primary. He finally endorsed Clinton in the summer, and hoped to bring some of his young supporters to Clinton’s side.
Still, just how many Sanders backers will flock to Clinton remains to be seen. In May, the Nevada State Democratic Convention in Las Vegas erupted into chaos at the end, when Sanders’ supporters tried to charge the stage, demanding a delegate recount. That forced the convention to abruptly end at the Paris-Las Vegas, and dozens of police had to be called in to keep the peace.
But Hart, who has worked on a pro-Clinton super PAC, also cites Clinton’s strong “ground game.” The former secretary of state is accessing President Barack Obama’s highly successful method of identifying potential voters and getting out the vote. Obama has also endorsed Clinton.
“It really comes down to that 5 percent of the incremental voters,” Hart explains. “Once you identify them, you have to get them to the polls.”
Chris Esposito, a partner of the political consulting group Dover Strategy Group, agrees that the country is so politically polarized that the battle is really for a small slice of the electorate: independent voters, or those who may switch from one party to another.
“The presidential races are really decided by people who are nonpartisans,” Esposito notes. “These people don’t really pay attention until October. These are people who sporadically vote or who have never voted.”
Polls have consistently shown Clinton with a large lead among women voters, while Trump leads with male voters. Esposito says that’s a great edge to have. “The presidential math shows that more women than men vote on Election Day.”
Trump’s Making History
Despite Trump’s historic achievement, it is overshadowed by doubt about his chances against the Democrats. He has enormous unfavorable numbers, and normally, that would be enough to torpedo a candidate’s electability. But this is no normal election. His Democratic opponent—the former secretary of state, New York senator and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton—has her own problems.
The wife of former President Bill Clinton has struggled with her own unpopularity and questions about her trustworthiness. Those concerns were only heightened in July, when FBI Director James Comey announced he was not going to recommend indicting Hillary Clinton…yet laid out the case against her use of a private email server to send classified information while she was secretary of state. Comey’s comments became the subject of Republican attacks, and fueled Trump’s “Crooked Hillary” storyline.
Trump is huge in Nevada. He won the Nevada Caucus by a landslide in February, and local radio personality and political commentator Alan Stock is not the least bit surprised. Stock, who is backing Trump, said the very things that make Trump so popular also draw the harsh criticism.
“Trump brings out a lot of emotion. People have been attacking him because of that strong emotion. But a lot of people like the things he says, and they don’t want him to stop being himself,” he explains. “So, you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”
How Did We Get Here?
More than a year ago, Donald Trump took the now-famous ride down the escalator at Trump Towers in New York, with his wife Melania, and announced he was running for president of the United States. The billionaire businessman then proceeded to make politically charged remarks about the crimes committed by some illegal Mexican immigrants, to illustrate why he felt the country needed more southern border security. Trump promised to “build a wall” on the Mexican border. Media pundits pronounced the Trump candidacy dead on arrival after the shocking speech.
Those remarks resulted in Trump being labeled a “racist” by many in the mainstream media. Sponsors fled anything connected to the controversial candidate. Many in the Hispanic community were offended. Businesses did not want to lose customers because of supporting Trump products. Denouncing Donald Trump seemed to replace baseball as the nation’s national pastime in the summer of 2015.
But, as it turns out, only certain factions in the country were outraged by Trump’s comments on illegal immigration. His support grew among his base… “a base” of people who had lost jobs, lost money and were rapidly losing their place in America’s shrinking middle class. In essence, they had lost hope.
“People are glomming onto him because of jobs,” Stock says.
Las Vegan Wayne Allyn Root, an early Trump supporter, author and radio personality, says Clinton has plenty of her own problems. Those issues include the recently concluded House committee investigation into the 2012 deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, during her tenure as secretary of state. That said, Root thinks the issues that affect people’s everyday lives are ones to emphasize.
“I think the economy, terrorism and illegal immigration matter more than Hillary’s history,” Root says. “Like it or not, the average voter just doesn’t understand the crimes of Hillary, from the Benghazi cover-up…to her email and perjury crimes.”
Trump’s populist stance on stopping unfair trade, and bringing jobs back from countries like Mexico and China, was a hit with voters—including many working-class white Democrats. Clinton, on the other hand, was overwhelmingly winning the support of African-Americans. She also had a big lead among Hispanic voters.
Supporters and defenders of Donald Trump were quick to point out that Trump was only referring to immigrants who were here illegally and committing crimes…not all Mexicans or Hispanics. They pointed to an immigration system they called “broken,” and a growing threat of terror from Islamic extremists groups. Groups, such as the Islamic State, which have warned they would infiltrate the refugee population fleeing violence in the Middle East.
“He has talked about building a wall, but it is metaphor for keeping the border secure,” Stock says. “Nobody has kept the borders secure since Eisenhower.”
Stock says Trump has been unfairly labeled a racist. “Trump is absolutely not a racist. He is not against Hispanics coming across the border legally. It is the illegals he is talking about. People say he is “anti-black,” but I challenge you to find something bad he said about [African-Americans].”
Surprisingly, a Pew Research Center Poll found that as many as 33 percent of Hispanics said they would vote for Trump in November. Root says Trump is a very likable person, and not a hater.
“He has energy. He’s a showman. He’s fun,” Root continues. ”I think all people of all races and cultures like that. White, black, Hispanic, Asian—Donald is entertaining and brilliant and unique in any language or culture!”
But Stock concedes that Trump has made a lot of people angry.
Democrats and progressive Liberals—including his chief rival, the 2016 Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton—accused Trump of spreading hate and divisiveness. Along the way, what Trump commonly called “the dishonest media,” did countless hours of coverage of Trump’s comments about some Hispanic immigrants and women.
Trump was soon also labeled a “misogynist” after making comments about Fox News personality Megyn Kelly having “blood coming out of her wherever,” referring to her performance moderating the first GOP primary debate. Trump and Kelly had a public feud, which began after Trump accused Kelly of being unfair to him during that same debate. (Kelly had brought up insults Trump made—in another years-old feud between Trump and comedienne Rosie O’Donnell—to ask about his attitudes toward women.)
By the time the New York real estate developer took on the Fox News star, Trump was no stranger to controversy; however, a funny thing happened after his altercation with Kelly. Trump’s poll numbers went up. A large number of Republican voters sided with him.
Gale Tuzzolo, the political director at the Nevada AFL-CIO, thinks Trump has done too much damage to himself to recover in either Nevada or the general election. The AFL-CIO has endorsed Hillary Clinton, both nationally and in Nevada.
“We have many minority members, and immigration is a working man’s issue,” Tuzzolo says. “And a lot of women won’t go near him.”
Somewhere around 21 percent of Nevada’s 225,000 AFI-CIO members are Hispanic. The Culinary Union had also endorsed Clinton.
Root thinks Trump’s chances with women and minority groups are not as bad as the media makes it out to be.
“As far as how Trump can win over women or Latinos, or blacks or Asians or gays…it’s so simple. Trump needs to paint the picture of the worst economy in modern history,” Root says. “Obama is the first president in history to produce 8 straight years of economic growth under 3 percent. Obama is worse than even (then-President) Herbert Hoover in the depths of the Great Depression.”
So Many Feuds…
Trump has made some enemies but usually comes out on top. Prior to the Kelly feud, in the summer of 2015, Trump got drawn into another fight. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had criticized Trump’s followers. The New York billionaire and presidential hopeful was bombastic in his response. Trump questioned whether McCain was truly a Vietnam War hero, even though McCain had spent years as a prisoner of war. Again, Trump’s candidacy was pronounced dead by the media. How could someone insult a true war hero, and the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, and expect to win the GOP primary? How could Trump ever recover with the all-important voting veterans?
Again, critics were dumbfounded, as “Teflon” Donald Trump increased his lead in the polls over Bush dynasty heir Jeb Bush, the extremely popular former Florida governor and the son and brother of former presidents. Trump also soundly defeated the candidate Time Magazine had called “the savior” of the Republican Party— first-term Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Also among the vanquished 2016’s GOP presidential hopefuls was Cruz, who was a conservative Tea Party favorite.
Then in December, following the deadly Islamic State-inspired terror attacks at a San Bernardino office Christmas party, Donald Trump drew widespread condemnation by proposing a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration. While a chorus of mainstream media, liberal progressives, Democrats, and many Republican leaders condemned Trump’s remarks, again he rose in the polls. In fact, some polls taken after the terror attack found that a majority of Americans approved of Trump’s temporary ban idea. Now, Trump was also labeled an “Islamophobe” and a “xenophobe.”
Even after becoming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in May, after handily beating Cruz in the conservative state of Indiana, Trump was not done courting controversy. After making comments about possible bias by a Hispanic-American judge in the lawsuit against Trump University, he took a hit in the national polls. The Trump campaign then revamped its leadership. That move, combined with the harsh public criticism of Clinton by the FBI’s Comey, turned the election into a close again race by convention time.
But just how much stock should we put in polls?
“The polls are just a snapshot in time,” Esposito says, adding a lot can change before the final ballots are cast.
Tuzzolo is confident Nevada will be blue in November. “I think Hillary will pull out front and come on strong.”
But Root says Americans know what is on the line in an age of global terror. “We need someone who understands it is madness to import hundreds of thousands of war-zone male Muslims into America. That is the definition of insanity and self-hatred. Trump is the answer to save America and to make America great again!”
So, who will win? No one knows. Amid the change that could be on the country’s horizon, however, one thing remains certain for the Silver State’s lifeblood, either way, says David Schwartz, director of the UNLV Center for Gaming Research.
“I don’t think there will much change to gaming policy.”
Valerie Miller is an award-winning journalist based in Las Vegas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.